Wet suit thickness/water temp cross-ref

Does anybody have a chart or link to a chart or other resource that lists the approximate water temperture for which the various thicknesses of wet suit are appropriate?


what activity?

– Last Updated: Sep-15-09 10:28 AM EST –

Not that dumb question, really.

Some wetsuits are designed to keep you warm in the water for extended submersion. That would be way too warm for paddling.

Flat water paddling on rocky rivers (class 1, maybe low class 2) and relatively small, calm lakes. I seem to get dumped at least once per river trip, but I’ve managed to stay upright in lakes (so far)…

Thickness impacts the
insulation and the maneuverability. So yeah, you might be able to get a 7mm wetsuit that works in the lower temperatures, but if you can’t paddle, swim, remount, or generally move very well, it doesn’t really do what you want.

In general 3mm is about the limit for paddling which will help down to about 45 deg F (water temp). Colder means drysuit and layering. And even at 45 degrees, you may only have a half hour or so to self rescue. They just buy you more time in the water before you go hypothermic.


sounds chilly
In my experience, 45 is pretty darn cold for a 3mm wetsuit. I’ve seen people get pretty chilled after a quick swim in that outfit in 55 degree water.

I agree that thicker than 3mm is pretty hard to paddle in. I have an older 5mm farmer john and it’s fairly stiff. Maybe the newer surf wetsuits are better though.

It’s Very Individual…

– Last Updated: Sep-15-09 11:43 AM EST –

in terms of personal tolerance to cold, the level of activity (enough for warm but not overheat), and the level of skills to get out of immersion situation relatively quickly.

When you are not as skilled, you would/should dress much more warmly (be it a thicker wetsuit or more layers under a drysuit) to protect against the possiblity of prolong immersion. To protect against overheating/sweating (which can lead to chilling), you would "lilydip" to avoid to put over exertion.

Obviously, if you out for a strenuous paddle, you have to dress with less insulating layer(s) and should have the skills to avoid prolong immersion.

I mention the above because these are individual factors that shape what you should wear. Having said that, for me (not a very cold tolerant body type), I wear surfing wetsuit of the following thicknesses for the respective water temps:

2 mm shorty wetsuit - 65 degrees and over
3/2 long wetsuit - 60 degrees and over
4/3 long wetsuit - 50-60 degrees
6/5/4 long wetsuit with integral hood, 3 mm neo mitts and 5-7 mm neo booties - 33-50 degrees.

I surf my waveski anywhere from 3-6 hours at a time depending on whether my session is a prework, dawn patrol or a weekend session. Oh, my roll ain't bombproof (some will say that one will eventually face a "bomb big enough", blah, blah...) but it's darn near it. The occaisons that I do blow it, I can scamble back on my waveski in under a minute.


Agree and can modify
I agree pretty much with Sing’s ranges. You can extend the range a bit by using a semi-dry top or dry top to keep your core warm. In winter I go to 55 degrees in a 3/2 with a semi dry top. I’ve paddled in 45 degree with my 4/3 and a dry top. I have some blubber and lived in the Arctic so my sensitivity to cold may differ from yours. I lots a lot a weight and it changed

appropriate for whom?
“Does anybody have a chart or link to a chart or other resource that lists the approximate water temperture for which the various thicknesses of wet suit are appropriate?”

Unfortunately, what’s appropriate for one individual may not be appropriate for another.

I shiver all night in a 30 degree night inside a 10 degree sleeping bag. Yet, I swam in 50 degree water for 1/2 hr on purpose!

Individual’s cold toleraance is quite different. There’re some “rule of thumb” to start with. But you’ll need to test it yourself to know what’s appropriate for YOU!

it would be appropriate to get wet
because what happens to YOU is not a function of how thick a piece of neoprene is.

How long you’ve been expending energy and can recover from an immersion of X minutes in Y temps isn’t mm of neoprene dependent. How long your unprotected hands can function in cold water isn’t a mm dependent factor.

Sing has good suggestions. The basic idea is that whatever you get you go straight to the water with it to determine it’s effectiveness. A chart won’t do that.

No easy answer… Sigh…
Thanks for all the comments folks!